Harvard counters wage plan

by L. Kim Tan

Thursday, May 4, 2000

Rather than calling for a minimum ``living wage'' of $10 an hour as students and other supporters had wanted, a Harvard University panel will recommend today that the world's richest university offer its lowest-paid workers better benefits and health coverage. The ad hoc committee comprising university administrators and faculty members is also calling on Harvard to stop contracting with outside service companies that do not provide subsidized health care benefits for their employees who work on the campus. It says Harvard should establish guidelines for dealing with outside firms holding contracts of more than $50,000 a year, to encourage employment practices consistent with Harvard's. But it is rejecting the key demand of the student-led Living Wage Campaign, which has clamored for a year for Harvard to ensure a minimum wage of $10 an hour for all workers. Cambridge adopted the rate as the city's ``living wage'' last year. Supporters have held numerous protests in recent weeks, most recently last Friday when a group picketed inside Harvard's Byerly Hall, where visiting prospective freshmen and their families met with university admissions staff. Harvard sophomore Roona Ray said her group plans another rally Saturday. She said yesterday that the university is taking ``a step in the right direction'' in calling for better benefits and for guidelines for contractors who send some 2,000 employees each year to work at Harvard. The university itself has 12,722 employees. ``It's definitely wonderful,'' she said. ``But the university still has not addressed the wage issue and that poverty still exists here.'' Harvard officials disagreed, pointing out that the panel is recommending ``unprecedented'' measures that would go a longer way toward improving the lot of the university's lowest-paid workers, most of them in entry-level service jobs. The training program, for instance, estimated to cost $2,800 per employee, will benefit 500 workers a year and let them move up at Harvard. Harvard president Neil Rudenstine said he is recommending that the university adopt the committee's suggestions.